In search of clean air in the house



Outdoor pollution, we know. But at home "It's worse, assure scientists Zoom and advice for the air quality of your home ...

Each day, a person swallows about 1.5 kg of food and inhales 15 kg (12 000 liters) of air. But if we start to know what we eat, we often do not know what we are breathing. A first study of the Observatory of Indoor Air Quality (Oqai), at the end of 2006, showed that there was a specificity of indoor pollution. The conclusion was clear: the air we breathe in our homes and offices is not of good quality. We can even say that it is worse than the streets and likely to cause more damage than air pollution.

There are many causes besides smoking, of which we all know the dangers, and mites, these microscopic monsters, whose ugliness is known to all of us, which gives them a permanent right of passage in mainstream magazines. Less spectacular but just as dangerous, if not more:

- Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs), which come from building materials, flooring, insulation or paints. They are more and more controlled, and new products "VOC free" appear regularly to meet European directives (see below).

- The chipboard that is made of furniture, which can have adverse health effects and cause allergies, respiratory irritation, headaches and even worse ...

- Carbon dioxide (CO2) mainly caused by our breathing and by confinement.

- Household products (disinfectants, cleaners, wipes, candles) often composed of volatile and persistent petrochemical pollutants.

- Carbon monoxide and nitrogen dioxide, which can emanate from defective heaters (water heaters, wood stoves ...), and are not only polluting but extremely dangerous.

- Biological pollutants (cat hair, pollen, cockroaches, molds), more and more allergens.

- Asbestos, now banned from residence, which remains in old insulation and must be diagnosed when the property is sold.

- Radon, a natural radioactive gas that is more or less present in different regions and can accumulate in buildings.
How to fight this multiform indoor pollution? By getting rid of it and removing the sources.

Turn the air in the house or apartment

To get rid of it is first and foremost the business of everyone, even if, by enacting laws that make ventilation in buildings obligatory, we simplify the task.
In France, the share of old housing, not subject to the rule establishing the principle of permanent ventilation, still represents the majority of buildings. In old houses, ventilation is done "naturally" via the doors and the windows little joined which let pass the air. The problem becomes crucial when, to save energy, we isolate to excess forgetting that the air that remains locked is not the healthiest. So do not forget, as soon as you start renovations!

The situation should be better in newer homes, which are less polluted thanks to mechanized systems (VMC). Unfortunately, frequent malfunctions severely limit the reliability of these systems; recent studies of Oqai show it. Involved, the behavior of the occupants who do not apply the maintenance rules. Because a VMC is a double-edged sword: it participates in the renewal of the air, but can be a source of pollution if its maintenance, and in particular that of the filters, is not carried out regularly. Measurements have shown that kitchen or bathroom airflows seldom reach the target levels: in 84% and 63.5% of cases, the results are lower than the reference! (Source: Oqai Report, June 2009.)

What is certain is that ventilation alone can not eliminate the many pollutants observed in dwellings and that a major effort must be made upstream by reducing emissions at source. And that is the work of the industrialists.

Specialist advice for clean air at home

- Open large windows from the house at least 15 minutes a day, and ventilate the bed. Thus, moisture and VOCs are largely eliminated. During aeration, turn off or on the heaters as much as possible.
- Do not block the air intakes or grilles or extraction vents. Dust them and clean them every year. Do not hide them behind a covering or furniture.
- Have your VMC checked by the specialist every 3 years.
- During works, get out of the room to take breaks and regularly vacuum to remove dust.
- After the work, vent (at least 28 days for painting or wood treatment).
- After buying new furniture, pollutants released by glues, packaging and treated materials are removed after 5 to 6 months. Air the room longer, every day.
- Cleaning products and room fragrances are also big polluters. Prefer products composed of organic ingredients, without solvent or preservative. As for ionizers and air purifiers, their effectiveness is still controversial since they produce ozone.
- Avoid letting in your pets in the rooms. Brush them outside, if possible.
- The effect of plants is subject to controversy, for if some of them absorb harmful substances, others can also release them. Website to consult:

Manufacturers becoming more aware?

It's happening at the materials manufacturers. Conscious of the health risks caused by poor ventilation, they invent new solutions to limit risks at source. The kick-off was given by paint manufacturers, with the gradual disappearance of chemical solvents and the appearance of natural and ecological paints. In this field, nanotechnology has some good surprises, as evidenced by the new professional range "Keria Boni" by CD Peintures, which contains silver nanoparticles making the implantation of microorganisms difficult and thus avoiding the appearance of fungi and mold.

But, it is the insulation manufacturers who innovate by bringing new generations of products to the market.
Thus, with "PureOne", Ursa launches a new mineral wool (very white and more soft) whose binder is guaranteed without formaldehyde. For the moment, five "PureOne" references are proposed by the specialist, who is gradually extending this line to all of its products.
For its part, Isover, taking the bull by the horns, decided a complete renewal by putting on the market the generation "G3", which replaces its entire building range, and without price increase! The same goes for Knauf Insulation, which on June 30 completely stopped the production of insulation products containing formaldehyde, phenol and dyes, to launch "Ecose Technology" which stands out for its brown color. For all these manufacturers, they are new binders, combining organic and vegetable components without losing anything in performance, which replace the old compounds of petroleum derivatives. Additional advantage for professionals: these mineral wools are more pleasant to ask.

The second axis of research is plasterboard, which not only does not emit greenhouse gases but "destroys" them. This is the case of Knauf's "Cleaneo", a ceiling which, in addition to the qualities of acoustic insulation, purifies the ambient air thanks to an exclusive technology that adds to the plasterboard a volcanic mineral, the zeolite. Removing VOCs is also the raison d'être of Placo's new "Activ'Air" technology. A specific gypsum component captures and removes 70% of the aldehydes present in the indoor air, and remains effective during the average life of a building (about 50 years). Only two Placo products today benefit from this technology: the plasters "Lutèce Air'Pur" and the high resistance plates "Placo Impact" currently reserved for schools, but the range should rapidly expand.

What is the Observatory of Indoor Air Quality?

The Observatory of Indoor Air Quality is placed under the supervision of the ministries in charge of construction, health, ecology with the assistance of CSTB (technical operator), Ademe, the Afsset and Anah. It produces and gathers knowledge about the pollutants present in the interior atmospheres of the different places of life (housing, schools, offices, places of leisures, ...). The results of its studies are made available to the public and the professionals concerned to help a better understanding of this problem and to contribute, by the involvement of all, to the improvement of the quality of indoor air.